Parents of Japan kidnap victim meet North Korean grandchild

TOKYO (AFP) - The ageing parents of a Japanese woman who was kidnapped and taken to North Korea as a schoolgirl and allegedly died there have met her daughter for the first time, Japan's foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Ms Megumi Yokota's parents "spent time together" with their granddaughter Kim Eun Gyong, 26, and her family in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator over five days last week, the ministry said without giving further details.

Ms Yokota, who North Korea claims killed herself in 1994, became a symbol of a bitter bilateral row over Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly aimed at training North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs.

Tokyo rejects the claim that Ms Yokota committed suicide as baseless.

Ms Yokota's parents - father Shigeru, 81, and mother Sakie, 78 - had previously refused to meet Ms Kim for fear of being used in North Korean efforts to establish their daughter's alleged death as fact.

"We cannot talk about it now. Please let us have a chance to rest calmly," Ms Yokota's mother said in a statement to Japanese media.

In the Ulan Bator meeting, Ms Kim reiterated to the Yokotas that her mother was dead, Jiji Press quoted Japanese government sources as saying.

It was not immediately clear if the meeting could help improve Tokyo-Pyongyang ties. The two countries, which have no diplomatic relations, relaunched Red Cross talks on humanitarian issues this month following a two-year break.

The meeting was arranged by foreign ministry officials from the two countries who attended the Red Cross talks in Shenyang, China, according to Japanese media reports.

Ms Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977 on her way home from school in the city of Niigata by the Sea of Japan (known by the Koreas as the East Sea) and taken to North Korea by boat.

North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted a dozen Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. It said, without presenting conclusive evidence, that eight of them, including Ms Yokota, were dead.

The Japanese government has demanded that North Korea come clean on the abduction issue, saying that the deaths cannot be true, owing to a lack of evidence and North Korean defectors claiming to have seen some of the victims alive after their alleged deaths.

Japan also believes there are more kidnapping victims.

In 2004, North Korea handed over to Japan cremated remains it claimed were Yokota's. However, Tokyo said DNA tests conducted in Japan proved the claim to be untrue.

North Korea has not yet committed itself to reinvestigating the abduction issue, preventing Japan from moving ahead with talks to open diplomatic ties which could be sweetened by the prospect of huge economic aid to the impoverished communist state.

Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests have also discouraged Tokyo from restarting rapprochement talks.

Ms Kim Eun Gyong was was born to Yokota and Kim Young Nam, a South Korean man abducted and taken to North Korea, according to official North Korean explanations. DNA tests in Japan proved her biological relationship to Ms Yokota.

Some Japanese media reports have said Ms Megumi Yokota has become close to North Korea's ruling family and may know its secrets, one reason preventing the regime from letting her go.

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